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How Much Will It Cost to Hire a Lawyer?

The cost of hiring a lawyer depends on your case, and what arrangements you make. Learn about some of the options.

Even after winning a court case, people sometimes may come away feeling uneasy when it comes to the amount of an appropriate fee for a lawyer. Most people understand that an experienced lawyer's assistance can potentially be invaluable to a case, and that any legal counsel isn't cheap, but knowing the difference between a fair price and an excessive price is difficult because circumstances vary from case to case. Here are a few helpful guidelines on how lawyers' fees generally work.

Injury or Accident Cases: Most personal injury cases are charged on "contingency," meaning that the lawyer agrees to take a certain percentage of the settlement or judgment, usually one-third. After the contingency fee is paid, the remainder goes to the client. If the client does not win the case, there are no lawyer's fees. A contingency can also be on a sliding scale -- the lawyer gets a higher percentage if the settlement or judgment is large, a lower percentage if the award is smaller.

Non-Injury Civil Cases: Family law, estate planning, real estate, and almost all other non-injury civil cases are billed on an hourly basis, which can vary greatly from case to case and lawyer to lawyer. Factors such as the lawyer's experience and type of case will affect hourly pricing. While a lawyer experienced with cases similar to yours might be desirable, expect to pay more for any specialization. Also, expect to pay an initial retainer when the lawyer agrees to take the case, to secure the lawyer's services.

Retainers: A retainer is a dollar amount that represents a certain number of the lawyer's work hours at a set price, sometimes representing an estimate of the total cost of the lawyer's services on the case. A client pays a retainer in advance. By accepting the retainer, the lawyer is agreeing to not only work on your case, but also not to accept any cases that might present a conflict of interest with the case.

Criminal Cases: A flat fee paid up front is normal pricing practice for criminal cases. Because of the intricacies of a criminal case, pricing usually doesn't lend itself to contingency fees or hourly rates. Such cases typically involve numerous and complicated legal procedures (e.g., preliminary hearing, jury selection, trial, motions, writs and appeals). When facing serious charges it is imperative to find the best lawyer you can.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when seeking the right legal counsel for your case is not to let price dictate your choice. The best way to choose a lawyer is to meet them, discuss your case, ask questions, and have your concerns addressed directly.

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